I used to think anger was a negative emotion, and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. Now I know this belief caused more problems than the anger I wanted to suppress.
Growing up with four brothers, I thought of anger as a mostly male thing. After all, I never saw my mother angry; it was only my father and brothers who seemed to get angry.
When I was a teenager, some of the anger I experienced seemed like the darkest, most negative thing I knew. I didn’t want it in my life and would do almost anything to avoid it.
Since my teen years, I’ve developed close friendships with several people who have influenced my attitudes about anger. Outstanding teachers and mentors along the way have also set positive examples and helped me form new, better attitudes. Here are nine healthy ways I’ve learned to deal with my anger.
1. Accept anger: I no longer try to push my anger away or pretend it’s not there. When I experience it, I make a conscious decision to notice every detail about how it makes me feel and how my body is reacting to it.
2. Write down my thoughts: Writing is a way I can work through my anger. Even if I have no idea what to write, I make myself write something, and it almost always helps me feel better about the situation.
3. Talk to a friend: After I’ve calmed down, I find it is helpful to have a conversation about how I feel with a trusted friend. An opportunity to verbalize my thoughts and get some feedback usually helps me see the situation in a new light.
4. Be physical: Working out in the gym is one of my favorite ways of moving through anger. I am amazed at how much tension disappears from my body after a workout and as a result, I usually see things differently. That’s why I encourage my friends to take time for their physical activity of choice, anytime they are dealing with anger.
5. This too will pass: I remember this phrase and realize it is a truth that helps me get through tough situations. I continue to be amazed at how effective it is to remind myself of the simple fact that things continue to change, especially my thoughts and emotions.
6. Identify solutions: Sometimes I like to stop and think about which aspects of the situation I can control and which aspects I cannot control. Then I can move forward and brainstorm possible solutions, rather than repeatedly going over the whole situation in my mind.
7. Don’t be judgmental: In the past, I would sometimes blame people or situations for my anger. Once I learned to take responsibility for my emotions and choose not to lay blame, I found the anger was less intense and passed more quickly.
8. Relax: A fifteen-minute break where I can sit down, close my eyes and take some deep breaths is an effective way for me to deal with anger. I like to imagine a relaxing scene and focus on one detail in the image. A hot shower or a soak in the hot tub also helps me relax and start to regroup my thoughts.
9. Forgive: Learning to forgive can take years, but it is worth it because it releases bitterness and helps me be more accepting of others and myself. For me, part of forgiveness has been learning how to let go of lingering grudges and negative feelings about a situation.
Now when I feel anger, I take the time to stop and take note of how I am feeling as a result of this powerful emotion. What effect is the anger having on my body? Do I feel the tension in my neck? Am I experiencing indigestion? Do my muscles feel loose or rigid? Is my breathing deep or shallow?
Now that I’ve changed my beliefs about anger, I am thrilled to report I have fewer emotional highs and lows. I now get more accomplished, have more quality time with my family and feel more energy to do the things I love. I sometimes laugh with my brothers about teenage memories and no longer do I find myself stuck in the ‘anger zone.’
Photo: Flickr/ Niklas Morberg